Back to School….yet again!

Access Dance for Life is still here and kicking — just on a bit of a delay these days.   Diving into graduate school certainly adds to my daily schedule and is limiting how active AD4L is online.   BUT the blog will continue on — just at a bit of a snails pace for awhile.

This week I had the opportunity to do a radio interview with the local CBC Radio’s Up To Speed along with one of my students and her mom.   They are a part of the ExplorAbility program that was the inspiration behind the Dance-Ability program now offered through AD4L.

Click the link below to have a listen to the interview.




Buckets Overflowing…


Dance is a beautiful, dynamic, and expressive art form that touches our hearts, connecting us to music and emotion on a visceral level.   To those who are swept away it is much more the ‘just dance’.  We dedicate our lives to the art form – whether performing, teaching, or creating.   It becomes a part of who we are as people.   Because of this personal connection to dance we tend to become tied our ideas and methodologies, so much so that perhaps our expectations are a bit unreachable on occasion.

We may even take ourselves a bit too seriously at times. 🙂

As [dance] educators, whether teaching preschoolers or high school students, we need to remember that not only are we molding the technique and artistry of our young dancers, we are also molding their minds via our role as educators.  The words we choose, or do not choose, directly impact students’ self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence.

So does that mean that giving correction and criticism is wrong/damaging?   Short answer, No.   Constructive criticism and correction is entirely appropriate when given and taken in the right context.    It is key to ensure that correction and constructive criticism is given with a purpose.

Why do we correct?  Because we know that a particular student or group is able to do more and accomplish more within their technique.   If we didn’t see the potential, we would not push students toward more specificity, more artistry, more performance, in their work.  We want you to be the best that you can be!

A group of 5 yr old creative movement students reminded me that there is an important exchange occurring between both students (of all ages) and teachers.  It’s an important exchange that is worth paying attention to in our teaching.

Filling up the buckets.

It was a Saturday morning and the conversation with my 5 yr old class went something like this …

(Me)                “H, why are you sad today?”

(Little H)       “No one filled my bucket today!”

(The entire class of 18 )   “We have buckets too!  Our teacher says that when you do/say something nice to/for someone that you put a little happy into their bucket.”

(Me to little H)  “You know, when you put some happy into another persons bucket you are also receiving a little happy in your bucket too.”

(Little H)         “Yes!  I did do something nice for someone else today.  My bucket IS full!”

Later at the end of class…

(Me to the class)  “You all were so patient today while you were learning your recital dance.  Good job!”

And everyone in the class, as if on cue, held out their hands like little buckets to receive their compliment.   On this particular day my bucket had been feeling a bit empty, but as they left the room I felt like my bucket was suddenly over flowing.

(Cue the sunshine flowing into the room and my heart melting… )

It is crucial that we, as dance educators, ensure that we are making the time and effort to fill the buckets of all of our students, everyday.   The individual work of fine-tuning technique with confidence and the enjoyment of dance is directly connected to the joy we all feel when in the studio.  This fullness is what carries each of us (student and teacher alike) through the days/moments when maybe we aren’t so positive or are maybe struggling with the work.

How can we do this via our teaching?

  • Taking the time to acknowledge the effort students are putting into their work – whether they have accomplished  a step/task or are still working on it.
  • Taking the time to recognize and acknowledge an effort to change behavior or to make a better choice.
  • Helping a student find other ways to be a part of class when they are injured.
  • Acknowledging that what they are working on is challenging and that they are doing a good job at working through it.
  • Or maybe it’s a simple “thank you for working so hard today!” at the end of a class.

Some things to avoid.

  • Sarcasm –whether it be in jest or within a correction.   Sarcasm can be easily misconstrued and taken to heart.
  • Poking fun.
  • Making up names for students, though [probably] only done in jest this puts the students in an uncomfortable position and negatively impacts self-esteem.

The moral of the story?  How we choose our teaching words can give or take away the joy our students feel through dance. And when we give our students joy – what an amazing gift we receive in return.  The Best!

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Dear Readers,

See?!  AD4L really is still online!  Life has been a little crazy lately and well, sometimes life takes priority over blogging.   It happens.   But don’t dismay!  A newsletter is in the works and today is a NEW POST inspired by some amazing and energetic 5 yr olds.

Hope you enjoyed it!

Have a beautiful day.


ADDing to the support of your knee joints (& technique)

In an earlier post on the anatomy of the knee we included some general guidelines to consider within our teaching and technique.  Today let’s focus specifically on the importance and benefits of accessing the use of the inner thighs (adductors).


First, WHY are your adductors so important?

The adductors of the leg (inner thigh) are the support system for our supporting/standing leg, whether in a neutral/parallel or turned out position.   They are a key component when considering our stability in the centre of the room, and our overall performance.

Second, the use of the adductors aids the engaging the most medial of the quadricep compartment – which tends to be underused among dancers.  Among other issues, weak adductors and medial quadriceps creates an imbalance in the quadriceps overall, and leads to issues such as Patellofemoral syndrome.


Adductors, the key to efficient alignment and rotation!   Engaging the adductors when standing on two legs aids the activation of the deep rotators in the hip, which in turn fosters the neutral alignment of the pelvis.


Leg Shapes

At this point we need to consider leg shape (see figure to the left).  Each student has a unique leg shape in that the alignment of the knee in relationship to the ankle and hip varies.

This includes hyper-flexion of the knee (they always look slightly bent), hyper-extension of the knee (when extended the knees are behind the hip & ankle), bowing of the legs (when extended the knees are outside the line of the ankle and hip), and knock knees (knees closer together than the feet when in parallel) — or any combination of these three can also occur.   In dance, these different leg shapes affect not only our pelvic alignment (and overall posture), but our weight placement AND (in the long-term) the health of our knees as well.

Engaging the adductors also facilitates the engagement of the muscles of the pelvic floor, which in turn engages the deeper abdominals (it’s that feeling of lift that begins from the pubic bone upwards towards your belly button).  In turn this encourages the lift of the anterior crest of the pelvis (ASIS), guiding the pelvis into a neutral, and more effective, alignment.

This concept of engaging the adductors is key in any technique – whether working from a parallel position (anatomically neutral) or a turned out (externally rotated) position.


Checking in with Physiotherapists Kevin Dyck and Sam Steinfeld, they answer the following questions:

Can working in your hyperextension cause long term damage?

Long term hyperextension causes lengthening of the ligaments around the knee joint.  Due to the anatomical structure of the knee our ligaments provide the stability for the knee joint. Ligaments are like rubber bands…after they have been stretched or overstretched repeatedly they do not return to their original length.  If the ligaments around the knee are constantly stretched by standing into hyperextension, over time our knees will lack the support they need and injuries occur as other structures like muscles and tendons try to offer support.

What is Patellofemoral Syndrome?

Patellofemoral syndrome is a condition that refers to an incorrect balance of movement between the thigh bone (femur) and the knee cap (patella).  Imbalance of muscle strength and length at the knee leads to an improper tracking of the knee cap in the patella groove which causes pain, inflammation and irritation. Several muscles can be the culprit for the imbalances of patellofemoral syndrome.  The most common is a weak vastus medialis oblique (inside knee muscle) along with a tight iliotibial band (outside thigh muscle-tendon).  Tight calves, tight or weak hamstrings and gluteal muscles, especially gluteus medius, are also sources of patellofemoral syndrome.  Poor pelvic and abdominal control can also cause increased forces of stress to be placed on the knee during turnout in dance.


So how can this information be used in the studio?

From 6-12yrs of age (and beyond) we can provide images that help children to find the feeling of activating the inner thigh.  An image that gives them the feeling of resistance without over exaggerating the action  (which can lead to tucking the pelvis) will help them to feel this action.

For example – ask each child to stand in a parallel/neutral position of the feet and to place an big, fluffy, [imaginary] marshmallow between their ankle bones, calf muscles, and upper thighs.   Cue them to hold the marshmallows in place, but not to squish them.    This accomplishes TWO things –  engaging the adductors AND bringing the legs into a neutral alignment (key for those who are bow legged or have hyperextension of the knee).

With adolescent and adult students we can use the same (or similar) image, bringing the action of aligning the pelvis and ribcage into the discussion more specifically.  Regarding leg shape, with the pre-teen and adolescent student we can also ask those students with hyperextension of the knee to bring the centre of the knee in line with the supporting ankle (see figure to the left) while engaging the adductors.  Though at first this will feel as though they are dancing on a bent leg, over time this will prevent unnecessary damage to the cartilage and structures of the knee.


How does this apply to young children?

Young children are just beginning to develop the ability to ‘feel’ their muscles and alignment.  As such, combining these concepts can be too much information to process at once successfully.  In my own teaching practice, the focus with young children is on the use of the adductors to bring the legs into correct alignment via imagery.  As students develop more muscular control we begin to discuss in more detail how to align the knees and begin to include more specific exercises to assist with this process.


Teaching Ideas:

(Alignment of the legs)

Ages 6 and up –  When doing seated exercises with the legs extended in front, take a moment to check the alignment of each students legs in this position.  Taking the alignment from the knees being side by side will foster a stronger sense of alignment through the legs.  The trick here is to assure children that if their knees are together and their feet are apart that this is ok.  Ask them to imaging holding a small ball or water balloon between their feet to aid with alignment.


For students working with hyperextension in this seated position generally the feet will come off of the floor when then legs are stretched.   When aligning the legs, take a moment to ask them to lower their heels to the floor in this position.   Perhaps having them place their heels on a star (a foam star or imaginary) during the floor exercise.  This will begin the process of understanding in what position the knees are to be aligned when in a standing position.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats


The Magic of Winter!?!


Living in the centre of Canada, though not the northernmost part of Canada,  a larger than usual portion of our year is spent adapting daily life to (extreme) winter weather conditions.    Our children are very familiar with the excitement of the first snow, and the inevitable winter blues that affect us after months and weeks and hours of snow.  Extremely low temperatures often visit between snowfalls – cold enough that children are not allowed to go outside for recess.    As this is part of our geographical landscape the number of school days children miss because of weather is surprisingly limited.   Instead, allowances are made for those travelling long distances and for those in rural areas, and recess is adapted to the weather conditions whether than means only 10 minutes outside or recess in the gym.

Parents, teachers, and children agree that sometimes winter seems to be endless!  Oh, how we yearn for the days of not wearing boots, coats, hats, mitts, and layers upon layers of clothing!  (Can you sense the mid-January exasperation?)

Ezra Jack Keats’ book,The Snowy Day is the perfect book for reminding us of the fun we can have exploring in the snow, by ourselves and with a friend.   Simple activities, like going for a walk, become an adventure!   Walking in the snow we can see our footprints, we experience the ‘crunch, crunch, crunch’ sounds beneath our feet, and the feeling of sinking into the deep banks of snow (the best mode of travel in lieu of cleared sidewalks).

Keats’ captures the wonder of  witnessing the sparkling snowflakes falling, giving our landscape a magical lightness.   And those first moments waking  up after a snowstorm/blizzard, looking out into the neighbourhood that has magically been transformed into a sparkling, white, crystallized wonderland.

Taking this book into the studio, creative movement (3-5 yr olds) lessons can include exploring different pathways on the ground, the shapes and sparkle of snowflakes, tip toeing through the snow attempting to make the smallest footprints possible, and tunnelling through the huge piles of snow.     For 6-7 yr olds (pre-ballet) we can explore our footprints in the snow — turning our feet out and in (external and internal rotation), high tip toes with turnout, and long runs (for the boys) that take us soaring low across the snow.

The final page of the book seems to sum up a child’s early experience of our winters…little wee persons surrounded by HUGE piles of snow!

Everyday is truly and adventure.

Simply magical.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Happy New Year!

Most common question of the day,  “what resolutions did you make?”

Most common response to this question a month from now is, “Resolutions?  Oh riiiiigggght…”

Instead of creating a list of resolutions that most often support unrealistic expectations I suggest that this is a time to reflect on the past year – on both our successes and our failures – give ourselves a collective pat on the back for being awesome and then make a list (mental or otherwise) of those things in life, in dance and in ourselves, for which we are grateful.


“The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to
such an extent that it changes the world you see.”
— Dr. Robert Holden

Let’s break this down to the dance studio…


Before you step back into the studio consider the impact that dance has had on your life, and on you.   Has it had an affect on how you live?   Your view of the world?   How much joy does dance bring to each day?  What would your life, your day, be like without it?

In dance we often focus our energy on what needs to be improved, striving for that ever elusive perfection.  Today, take a moment to appreciate & acknowledge what you have accomplished.    What are your strengths?   Have you accomplished a step you never though you would be able to perform?  Have you learned a new role?   Have you performed something new or more often than you’d expected?

Thinking specifically about the role of dance in your life,

for what are you most grateful?


My challenge to you on this first day of 2013 is to live life, and dance, through the perspective of gratitude.   Begin each day and each step into the studio holding gratitude for the gift of dance in each breath you give to each movement and to each note which inspires you to dance.

To kick off this challenge, take a moment (in the comment section below) to let us all know what you are most grateful for in dance.  Let’s get some collective gratitude started for 2013!


Wishing you all the best for your best year yet!


November Newsletter

Starting today, AD4L newsletters will be available to absolutely everyone (scroll down to read it!)!  Subscribing is still the easiest way to ensure you don’t miss out on a single post or newsletter (and you will receive the occasional bonus too!).  However if email isn’t your thing you can keep in touch via Facebook and Twitter as well.

To share the newsletter with your studio and friends:   In the viewer below click ‘expand’.   Hovering the cursor over the newsletter you will see sharing links at the bottom of the page, click on one of these to go to a sharing page.   From here you can download a  .pdf, email, like/share on facebook, tweet, and much more.

In response to Diabetes Awareness Month, this month’s newsletter discusses diabetes as it applies to the dance studio setting.  My mother is a Type II diabetic who is now living with the long term, life altering medical conditions that can accompany a life with Type II (vascular disease, kidney failure, neuropathy and amputation).   Caring for an individual living with these conditions, it saddens me to know that children are now being diagnosed with what used to be ‘adult onset’ of diabetes (Type II).  In essence, this diagnosis is a predictor of the life span of these children.   Eating lots of sugar is not a predictor of diabetes, and early detection followed by changes in lifestyle are key in preventing the life altering medical conditions that can occur.   Please read and share with friends and family in dance, and life!


Wishing you wellness in dance, and life!





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Accelerate Your Progress in Dance

YOU have the ability to accelerate your/your childs’ progress in dance!    Generally when students hear this they are a bit surprised– but its true, your actions and thoughts have a direct impact on your progress.  Just as selected the best foods will give you the fuel you need to get through your long day, you can fuel your progress by following a few simple steps.

 “How can I maximize the impact of my actions & thoughts on my progress?”


The power of positive thinking.

Your perception of yourself in dance (& life) will impact your performance whether you dance simply because you love it or because you want to pursue a career in performance, choreography, or teaching.  Keeping a positive mindset in class will foster your ability to absorb information and corrections both mentally and physically.  Receiving constructive criticism from your teachers becomes easier when you start with a positive outlook on both yourself, and your dancing.

 What can you do when you have those moments in class when you feel discouraged and negative?

    • Take a deep breath and remember why you love to dance.
    • Do something to ‘change the channel’ – get a sip of water and tell yourself “I can do this”.
    • Remind yourself that dance is a process – your teacher is challenging you because he/she believes that you can do it!

Keep a dance journal.

Taking a moment after class (or during if your teacher allows) to write down the corrections your received, how you felt about the class, and even the exercises that were taught in the class, will help you to retain the information you received.

    •  3 positives:  Simply by writing down 3 positive things that happened in class will help you to keep a positive focus.
    •  3 corrections:  Recording 3 corrections to work on will help you to keep a positive focus where you need to focus your energy during class.
    • 3 points of gratitude:   While you are at it you may as well include 3 things/moments that occurred that day which gave you joy/made you happy.   Keeping track of the things/moments you are grateful for will help you to stay focused on the positives throughout life.  Eg.  A sunny morning,  a hug from mom/dad/sibling, a good day at school.

 Be sure to keep your journal with you and read it through (2 or 3 times would be great) before the next class.  This will remind you of the positives and of where you need to focus your attention throughout your classwork.


Preparation will fuel your progress.

This is a simple one, but can be hard to follow through with when life gets busy.  When you journal you are in a sense preparing your mind, this particular preparation will help you prepare your physical self for dance.

    • Prepare your dance bag before you go to bed – make sure you have the appropriate gear, your shoes are ready for dance, water bottle, snacks are packed and ready.

TIP:  Set a reminder with an alert tone/sound on your phone to remind you to prepare you dance gear the evening before a day of dance!

    • You have arrived early for class – take a few minutes to warm up.  Jumping jacks, jog on the spot, jog the stairs (something active to increase your heart rate), and then do a few light stretches (not for flexibility) such as downward dog and a back stretch (cat/cow is great) to increase blood flow to the muscles.


    • You have arrived late for class – just 5 minutes until class begins!   If you can, still take a couple of minutes to do some light stretches before diving into class.  Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and, while you are at it, have a quick glance  at your journal notes from last class to focus your mind on dance.


Parents:    How does this translate to younger students?


Positive thinking – Encourage your child to speak about dance in a positive manner.  Even when a child experiences challenges in dance, whether its behavior or technique, let them know that there are positive results to learning how to deal with such challenges.


Journaling – Maybe there is something that the teacher focuses on regularly  (eg. Posture) in class.  Ask your child to draw a picture of this and explain it to you.   Or, as you drive home from dance ask your dancer “what was one good thing that happened in dance today?”   “What was one thing you teacher wants you to work on in dance this week?”


Preparation – Have your dancer help prepare their dance bag the night before dance.  Lay out their dance clothes and pack their shoes.  Ensure that a water bottle has been packed, and if he/she takes more than one class in a day – pack a quick, energy snack for between classes.

NOTE:  Being on time for class makes a huge impact on a students’ focus, particularly when tardiness is consistent.



Teachers:  How do we teach this to students and parents?

As you already know, the role of a dance teacher is to educate both the students, and the parents.   On your parents’ day/open house/observation week, take the time to talk to parents about ways students and parents can impact progress in a studio setting.   If you have worked on any of this in class – let them know this as well.

Though this might take a few minutes of your class, your students will reap the rewards in the coming months (and parents will appreciate the proactive direction!).

Some suggestions to help spread the word to parents:

Create a poster and place it in an area where parents and students will see it.

Post something on your schools’ website or Facebook page.

Create a handout for parents’ day.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Teaching the Adult Dancer…


Turning our attention towards the adult dancer, whether beginner or advanced students, let’s focus not only on learning and experiencing the art form, but also on developing our body & spatial awareness, and overall fitness.

Teaching adult student can be tricky task whether the teacher is younger than the student, or of a similar age.  Within one class there can be a broad age range – from twenty somethings through seventy (+) somethings, as well as a range of experience and abilities.  Consider the reasons why an individual might begin taking dance as an adult, or might continue dancing into one’s adult life.   Here are a few intentions and desires to be considered:

To continue dancing, for life!

To learn about and appreciate the art form.

To challenge oneself physically (fitness).

For the mental challenge of learning new things and ways of moving.

To experience all aspects of performance:  preparation, rehearsal, and performance.

 In addition to all of the above intentions, having fun and enjoying the process of learning is an important intention as is key to encouraging adult students to continue exploring dance and remaining active in life.


“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance one must keep moving.”  (Albert Einstein)


The adult dance class is an opportunity to teach the technique of the art form, as well as facilitate a deeper knowledge of the mechanics of dance, explore what inspires us as individuals, and encourage a healthy focus in dance (& life).  As adults we carry not only the stresses of our day into the class, we also have our insecurities as well.  The adult dance class can be an enjoyable and safe place for adult students to explore their physical and cognitive abilities through dance.

We’ve discussed the importance of the warm-up in the dance class in relationship to youth in dance, now let’s consider why its important for the adult student.

Adult classes generally occur outside of the usual workday schedule – which means either classes occur earlier in the morning or later in the evening   In the morning our muscles and joints can be stiff from inactivity, having been at rest for (hopefully) 7-8 hours, our heart rate has lowered and our bodies have been recovering to homeostatic balance.   For morning classes, taking the time to increase the heart rate gradually  increases blood flow to the muscles and tissues, while gradually moving through the joints warms the (synovial) fluids and tissues of the joints is key.

Any adult who has gone to the gym later in the evening knows that we often carry the weight and tension of our day in our muscles and joints (particularly in the upper body and neck).  We have been working against gravity throughout the day, which can have a negative affect on our posture and alignment.  By the end of the day our muscles are not necessarily ‘ready to move’ and this is perceived as stiffness in our muscles and joints.

In either case, a warm-up which is not heavily focused on technique aids in the awakening (firing) of neuromotor connections, an increase in heart rate, which in turn increases the blood flow to the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons as well.   A good warm-up also facilitates the mental preparedness of the adult student , energizing and refocusing our thoughts towards the body and its mechanics, and away from the tension and stress of the workday.

The WARM-UP is key to beginning class on an energized and positive note.   For the adult student ‘analysis to paralysis’ is a common issue and can be a de-motivating force.   Incorporating everyday, pedestrian movement that is familiar takes the focus off of perfecting technique, facilitates a quicker physical response and encourages a positive ‘can do’ attitude.   The warm-up should be non-technical, increase the heart rate, and incorporate gentle, dynamic stretches to foster pliability of the muscles and lubrication of the joints. Elements from yoga (love downward dog) and pilates (plank!) exercises can be incorporated, as well as those reliable calisthenics that we use in training and workout sessions at the gym.

Keeping the warm-up moderate in length, doing four repetitions of the warm-up provides ample time to gradually increase the tempo of the exercise.    If the warm-up begins with walking through the space using different directions, on the third and fourth repetition the walk can progress to a light jog with our without stretched feet.

Generally adult students spatial & body awareness is limited, particular for beginner students.   Incorporating the use of directions and personal space in your warm-up is an easy way to incorporate a cardiovascular element to the class.  Encouraging students to move through the space, keeping a long stride, while making an effort to move through the spaces in-between the other dancers in the room.   Agility and balance can be challenged by encouraging quick changes of direction, and in particular travelling backwards.

Rhythmical elements can be incorporated, and then referenced later in the class in a more technical manner.  For instance if the class focuses on triplets, balances, or big waltz movements across the floor, use a basic walking triplet in your warm-up.   Again, this can progress to a quicker, running triplet as tempo accelerates.   This can be a very effective way to prevent the ‘analysis to paralysis’ epidemic when learning these forms of rhythmical steps.


Looking for more specific ideas and progressions?

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Author:  Jacqui Davidson